Throughout the ages and in every culture, there are customs and superstitions linked to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In this country, bubbles are considered good luck, so imbibers toast the new year with champagne. A piece of gold jewelry placed in your glass supposedly promises wealth, so many packs a bauble. Those we kiss at midnight are destined to remain close to us throughout the year—so place those kisses wisely. And we make noise at midnight—lots of it—ostensibly to chase away evil spirits.
Food superstitions abound as well, and many are rooted in the South. One theory says that black-eyed peas were the only foodstuff left after the Yankees decimated the farmers’ fields; others believe that the slaves ate the ample legume on Jan. 1 to celebrate the day the Emancipation went into effect. Today, anyone with any Southern blood in them at all eats black-eyed peas on the first day of the new year, usually with some type of greens (collards, kale, spinach, cabbage), as the color signifies money, and a little more of that never hurts.
Similarly, eating anything yellow is good luck as well, as yellow is the color of gold. Lentils, specifically green lentils, are lucky because their roundness symbolizes coins.
In the South, pigs are considered symbols of good luck, because they root forward when foraging for their food. So a Southern meal of black-eyed peas, pork, greens, and golden cornbread was believed to exponentially increase one’s luck. Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and pork) is consumed all over the South on Jan. 1, and is usually served over rice, another food that symbolizes abundance because it swells as it is cooked. A shiny coin is often thrown into the Hoppin’ John cooking pot, and the person who gets it in their bowl is due an extra portion of good luck (which they may need to pay for the tooth they fractured chomping down on that coin). We hear there’s also a variant called Hoppin’ Juan, made with Spanish black beans. No word on whether or not a Hoppin’ Giovanni exists…
Another tradition holds that counting the number of peas predicts the amount of luck that one will have in the coming year (one pea = one day), so I suppose the optimum serving on New Year’s Day is 365 black-eyed peas. (You know, all of the sudden Jan. 2 doesn’t sound so lucky.)
Conversely, it’s considered bad luck to eat crab or lobster on New Year’s Day, as they move sideways, and no bottom-dwellers either, like catfish, or you may become a bottom-feeder as well. But other fish are OK because they swim forward. Now it’s very bad luck to eat chicken or turkey, because they scratch backward for food, so anyone consuming this type of poultry is destined to “scratch in the dirt” for food in the upcoming year. Oh, and any kind of beef is out as well, as cows eat standing still, and no one wants to do that.
A Spanish tradition calls for eating 12 grapes, one at a time to represent the months, accompanied by a wish for each month. And if you encounter a sour grape(s), well, that month may not be so good.
And now for the customs.
Home cupboards and pantries must be stocked full heading into a new year. Doing so guarantees they’ll stay that way. And no tears should be shed on the dawn of a new year, as it sets a precedent for the rest of the year.
In this country, we may write down our regrets and toss them into the fire. We might even open the windows and doors at midnight to let the old year escape, and open them again the next day to let the fresh air in. In South America, though, they wear red underwear (to catch a mate) or yellow underwear (for prosperity) and some believe better luck is achieved if one wears the underwear backward. And if it has circles or polka dots on it, all the better, as this symbolizes—you guessed it, coins. On the first day of the year, citizens are encouraged not to work, as that is considered bad luck. It is also bad luck to start off the year doing laundry, or a family member may be washed away.